What Camille Saint-Saens had in common with Mozart was his incredible precociousness as a musician and composer. Unlike Mozart, though, his career was an upward trajectory: successful first symphony composed while still in his teens, idolized in France by his twenties; he earned the professional respect of composers Berlioz and Liszt; he was an accomplished concert pianist, and wrote books on philosophy, literature, and the arts. Many feel his music doesn’t have a whole lot of depth, though, and music writers since his death have said it’s too bad he wasn’t known for his whole body of work instead of a few glowing exceptions: The Carnival of the Animals, his Second Piano Concerto, the Organ Symphony, the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra, and the Danse macabre.
Since Halloween is around the corner, here’s the 12th movement of The Carnival of the Animals, “Fossiles” (“Fossils”). The xylophone is used to great effect, to emulate the bones of skeletons clacking together as they play cards. The two pianos play devilishly difficult jumps.
Camille Saint-Saens was born October 9 in Paris, France, and died December 16 in Algiers, Algeria.